Matthew Barlow
Now Age






Asheville, North Carolina-based Matthew Barlow is an Ambient artist, multi-instrumentalist and label runner known for his versatile Twin Springs Tapes label as well as for his own productions and collaborations, many of which have been recently inspected in-depth at AmbientExotica. He has created one of my all-time favorites, the semi-cheekily titled Product (2013) which, in retrospect, absorbs the aesthetics of that certain V-genre whose bedroom producers tend to slow down the sampled material ad infinitum. Said work consists of two mercilessly elasticized field recordings taken in a grocery store and prolonged beyond recognition, thus radiating daring phantom frequencies, recondite low frequencies and glowing fir-green cataracts. This is but one luring tape of Mr. Barlow’s morphogenesis, and in the wake of Now Age, the cycle seems to be repeated by the look of things. Released in March 2015 on Benjamin Krarup’s Phinery label hailing from Denmark, the deep blue – and sold out – tape can be digitally fetched at Bandcamp and comprises of two long-form compositions of approximately 25 minutes, themselves housing two till three agglutinated pieces. Why does it seem as if the cycle repeats? Well, Product was a token of consumerism, its title fittingly describing both the shape of the physical artifact and the merchandising/technocracy culture in general. Now Age then is a consequential clear pun on the New Age genre, well done, Sherlock. But this wordplay only offers the interface for further inspections. Is Now Age a pernicious statement about the beloved movement, or itself a declaration of love, and if so, does it graft hundreds of synths onto fluvial verglas amanitas?


The deep blue tape harbors Matthew Barlow's fibrillar tracks. Photographed by Benjamin Krarup.


Lactic whitewashed warmth, a nomological cocoon, the barycenter of a photodissociating sanctuary: welcome to Continuum which benignantly opens side A in a magnanimously plasmatic way. Comprising entirely of gently oscillating drone ventiducts and supranutritious streamlined magnetotails within the parallax perapsis, the emitted spirituality is thankfully completely genuine and non-tacky. The fragilely hill-dispersed plateau epitomizes aural phoresy: a synthetic organism travels the serpentine body of another, neither being toxic nor a foreign substance. Light particles and fermions unite in this comparatively dry, echoless chamber, but what Matthew Barlow’s arrangement lacks in over-the-top plasticity, it gains in the perianth-plastered tropopause, hence feeling immediate and honest. Continuum shares its space with the adjacent two-parter A Personal Voyage. From its raspier state of pulsatile electric current over a crimson aridity made of stacked sinews to its stupefyingly translucent superresonance pointing leeway and right into the fluid-processed estuary, this increasingly climactic composition is both insouciant and exciting, offering a kaleidoscopic bubble ventricle that is finalized via a crackling field recording of something that comes across as a blurred pressure chamber.


Side B meanwhile shares the sentiment of droning dioramas and softly vesiculating punctilio polymers hued in panchromatic colors. Grounding functions as the gateway to the flipside, featuring wondrously amniotic chromophores whose chirping purity works well with the suntrap made of rectilinear drones. Cautiously desiccated and thus radiating high concentrations of nucleic energy, the simultaneity of what could both be a field recording of real birds and an apocryphal approximation thereof unites the Now with the Age, mercurial liveliness with assimiliating efflorescence. Both states can hardly exist coevally in Ambient music without annihilating the balance, but Matthew Barlow races the calcined tide as efficiently as possible, eventually making room for the diaphanous endpoint The Cosmos Consciousness. The title may either evoke synth sybaritism or a thickly wadded aliphatic abiogenesis à la Arizona as the primary driving factor, but this is not a classical Space Ambient outing, there’s no multiplex of ultramafic pad progressions and glitters. In lieu of these stylistic patterns, Asheville’s ambienteer comes up with a viridian veil of fissured drones. The superficial cracks and interstices make room for wondrously helicoidal isospins whose principal physiognomy is sweetly softened and fuzzy. Having no jagged prongs nor glitchy jitters whatsoever, The Cosmos Consciousness exudes percolating halides and winds down with a field recording of a solanum swamp, further neglecting the contrived coldness of space in favor of Earth’s autochthonous phylogenesis.


The gist of Now Age and the translation of its titular concept into an actual audible chemotaxis is tremendously important, lest its catchy title is perceived as a quasi-witty amphibology begging for undeserved attention. And to be honest, this aphorism isn’t too far off, and there’s a good reason: Now Age expels the very mysticism that is otherwise key to the genre’s helix. There are no faux-explanations, there is no centrifugal force that breaks the languorous balance, nor is there ever an alkaloidal element that destroys the titration and lets the composition become a caustic phylum. Since those clandestine-enigmatic tone sequences cannot be found, positive bewilderment ensues and eventually leads back to the title which in turn becomes clearer as album and mind progress in tandem. As slick and appealing the tape’s title may be, the most-important transformation of its zoetropic meaning is, to my ears, the synchronized concurrency of its counteractive cornerstones. Without taking this idea too far and trying to find oxymoronic devices at all costs, it can be said that there are antagonisms found in Now Age, but they are cleverly masked, shaped as euphony, encapsulated in polyphonic macronutrients. This is a New Age record alright, but Matthew Barlow turns down both the antediluvian and futuristic concepts that ar so easily attached to similar records by eager listeners and reviewers, yours truly piteously included right on the forefront. Forget all genre attributes, substyles and cachets: Now Age is a silkened pyroxene made of amicable warmth, containing an intriguingly crafted textural allure made by an ever-changing Ambient artist.


Further listening and reading: 

  • The tapes are sold out, the digital version of Now Age remains available on Bandcamp.
  • Benjamin Krarup’s Phinery label is on Twitter, and so are Matthew Barlow and his own label Twin Springs Tapes: @MattCBarlow @PhineryTapes @TwinSpringsTps


Ambient Review 426: Matthew Barlow – Now Age (2015). Originally published on Apr. 15, 2015 at